Mt. Holly finds replacement goats to eat ivy

A herd of about 45 goats is expected to descend upon a small woodland park in Mount Holly this week to munch away the invasive English ivy that is choking the forest floor.

The goats will be released on the 10-acre site to help themselves to free food - which includes poison ivy and small saplings - while their owners, Grazing Green Goats of Hummelstown, Pa., will be paid between $8,000 and $10,000, depending on whether it takes the animals three or four weeks to lick the plate clean.

"This is a demonstration project, to show there's an alternative way to control invasive species," said Randi Rothmel, chairwoman of the township's environmental advisory committee and a member of the green committee that received a $12,000 grant for the project.

"The goats are a natural lawn mower," she said, and offer a better solution than using harsh chemicals.

The grant was approved by Sustainable New Jersey, a nonprofit organization that gives towns money to go green.

Last month, Rothmel went into a panic when Eco-Goats, an "environmentally friendly vegetation control service" in Maryland, backed out of the job days before the goats were scheduled to arrive. Brian Knox, Eco-Goats owner, had planned to bring in 70 goats to spend 12 days tackling the problem on the Mount, the woodland park that was once the site of a Revolutionary War skirmish.

But when Knox examined the site, he decided the goats might be vulnerable to vandals and might be able to eat only 40 percent of the thick ivy carpet.

"They will eat ivy when it goes vertical . . . but the dusty stuff on the ground they just don't like," he said last month.

Rothmel said Knox later came up with an alternative: hiring a heavy-duty mower and letting herbicides do the rest of the work. But she doubted the grant would cover that cost, saying the money had been approved for the goat project. Knox then contacted John Connelly, founder of Grazing Green Goats, near Harrisburg, to see whether he might be interested. Connelly had once worked with Knox, according to Rothmel.

Connelly could not be reached for comment Monday. His website says he has a background in the animal agriculture and production industry and is also a goat herder.

Rothmel said she was confident that Connelly's goats would be able to sufficiently attack the ivy. His goats also are tamer and therefore less likely to roam, she said.

"They'll be behind an electrified fence, but if there's any problems and they're let out, they probably won't go too far," she said.

Rothmel said that after the goats are gone, some herbicides will be sprayed to control new sprouts. Then, about 2,500 native trees and shrubs will be planted, possibly in the fall, she said.

"We want to plant the trees and understory that hopefully will produce a layered effect," she said. "A healthy forest has layers, small and large trees, but right now we have only large trees because of the ivy."

Since the Grazing Green Goats herd is slightly cheaper than the Eco-Goats', Rothmel said she hopes to use any leftover grant money to spray a natural repellent on the new plants to deter the deer from eating them.

"In the end, I'm happy it is going to work out," she said. "And now we have a little more money for the deer that we wouldn't have had."

856-779-3224 @JanHefler